How stress shrinks the brain

New research from Yale University looks at the genetic mechanisms behind how stress changes the brain.

Previous studies have established an association between stress and decreased volume in areas of the human brain that regulate thought and feeling. This current study takes a look at the genetic mechanism underlying these brain changes. 

Scientists compared the genetic makeup of deceased human brains with and without major depression. What they found in the brains of individuals with depressive disorders was more limited and fragmented abilities to process information. This is due to a genetic transcription factor, or "switch," that, when activated, can turn genes on or off. The transcription factor is known as GATA1, and it switches off the activity of key genes that form synaptic connections between the brain and neurons. 

The Pyschology Today article notes:

"This finding may explain the pattern of repetitive negative thinking that depressed people exhibit. It is as if their brains get stuck in a negative groove of self-criticism and pessimism. They are unable to envision more positive outcomes or more compassionate interpretations of their actions."

Evidence is not yet conclusive. 

The study was published in Nature Medicine.

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